Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Daniel Bryan Is Back

The Dragon Returns
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On February 8, 2016, Daniel Bryan appeared at RAW in Seattle to announce he would be retiring from active in-ring competition. The announcement left people stunned, but given the injuries that cut both of his afterglow runs after WrestleMania XXX and 31 short, it wasn't surprising. The rash of head and neck injuries he suffered were the product of a career that went hard. However, while Daniel Bryan was retiring, everyone sort of assumed he'd pop up somewhere else after his contract ended to continue wrestling as Bryan Danielson, no matter how many times he said that he'd settle down to a more pastoral life.

The fires never really went out, and Bryan, with the exhortation from his wife Brie Bella, never stopped trying to recover and defy odds to get cleared medically to compete to a level of safety that he was comfortable with. Even if it wasn't going to be in WWE, he was going to wrestle again. News started to filter out that he got clearance from doctors outside of WWE, but the funny thing is that for how fast and loose WWE doctors have played it with other cases in the past and continue to do so, Bryan was a high-profile case. He wasn't going to get clearance so easily from WWE doctors, not with concussion suits ongoing and increased scrutiny on its practices. Basically, Vince McMahon and Dr. Joseph Maroon were covering their asses. Bryan wasn't going to get clearance unless they got the most rock solid evidence that he could go through the rigors of a high-profile pay-per-view match up to the standards he set for himself.

Apparently, WWE administration finally got that evidence. WWE dot com "broke" the story yesterday in advance of Smackdown Live. Bryan kicked the show off with an impassioned soliloquy where he profusely thanked the fans and his wife for always pushing him to keep fighting to get back. And then to close the show, he took a hell of an ass-kicking at the hands of Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens, one that finished with him taking an apron bump off an Owens powerbomb. That's certainly one way to hop back into the swing of things.

The real story here, however, is that Daniel Bryan wasn't "just" cleared yesterday. According to my well-placed source, Bryan has had WWE clearance since January 27 of this year, the day before the Royal Rumble. He has always been earmarked for a match at WrestleMania. It's unclear how WWE was going to announce his return, but I can confirm yesterday's announcement wasn't planned to happen as it did. Apparently, people got too close to sniffing out the news of Bryan's clearance before WWE was ready to announce it in whatever way it was going to do it, so they rolled it out in the "legitimate" news fashion before going with it on the show.

So, this whole deal was in the works for a longer time than what WWE has let on. Bryan's status changed for one of two reasons. The first gives WWE more credit for altruism and wrestler safety than it deserves regardless of whether the treatments Bryan was receiving, including but not limited to hyperbaric isolation therapy worked in miraculous ways. The second is that WWE knew he was going to wrestle if he left the company after his contract was up, and that it desired to keep him happy enough to re-sign and not give any company an inside track towards competing stateside.

Either way, the greatest professional wrestler of the last 20 years, perhaps even over a longer epoch, is returning to active duty. I could not be happier for him to do the only thing that seemingly gave him fulfillment. I also am not too concerned about Bryan's health, because again, for whatever reason WWE has cleared him, he's too high-profile a case to let hang from a single thread. I don't know any other details of his schedule right now. Whether he comes back for a full schedule or some kind of part-time schedule that allows him to work select dates is unknown. However, the fact that he's wrestling again is a beautiful, beautiful thing.